Ethanol is anything but green

C.Ford Runge, a McKnight University Professor of Applied Economics and Law at the University of Minnesota, wrote an article called “The Case Against Biofuels:  Probing the Hidden Costs of Ethanol (March 11, 2010)” discussing the hidden costs of ethanol on Yale’s Environment 360 blog.

Runge points out the that the cons of ethanol are weighing more than the pros and that growing food crops for ethanol is anything but green.  Eventhough now people are becoming aware of this fact, he warns that Obama administration has already made plans to ensure that half of U.S. corn crops will be used for biofuel production. In 2010,a third of the 335 million metric tons of the corn harvest will be used to make ethanol due to Obama’s push and agreement to mandates to triple biofuel production to 36 billion gallons by 2022 (17billion gallons of ethanol and 3billion gallons of biodiesel produced in 2008).

But a closer look reveals more harm than good, as Runge points out.  It brings up issues on food security, especially to the world’s poor, high food prices, harmful environment impacts including eutrophication and toxication of waters from fertilizaers, water shortage due to large volumes of water used to grow these crops, land-use change, biodiversity, and green house gas emissions.   An interesting study by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel prize chemist, emphasized how bad it was for the environment to use large amounts of nitrogen to grow these crops. In fact, the nitrous oxide released to the atmosphere is 296 times more damaging a GHG than CO2!

Runge then concludes by saying that the only way to prevent this from become worse is to freeze further mandates, reduce tax credits, and cut tariff protection, while we look for other forms of more qualified sustainable renewable energy like wind powered, solar powered, or algal biofuel energies.


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